My grandpa taught me this lesson years ago with a bracelet. He was a jewelry maker, and someone had brought him this bracelet to melt down and reuse the silver content. They wanted a brand new pendant or ring, and this would work nicely to provide the silver at a reduced cost.
He refused to melt it down. He used his own supply of silver to create their order, and brought the bracelet to me.
I love bracelets, so of course, I was thrilled with a new trinket. It was beautifully crafted and had an old-world charm to it. I was merely a teenager and didn’t understand what he was teaching me at the time. It took me a few years to truly understand the significance of the bracelet.
What he saw in it was something different. There were names etched in each link; someone’s family or loved ones that they wanted to keep close and on their mind.
“You can’t melt it down,” I remember him saying. “These names are people that someone loved. You can’t just throw that away.”
Never mind that we had no idea who these people were. Grayce, Pop, Freddie, Maggie, Mary Jane, Joanne, Jerry, Janette, and Bobby. We don’t know where the bracelet came from – a pawn shop? Flea market? Thrift store? Family heirloom? What adventures had it already experienced before it came to me? Where were these people? Were they even still alive?
My grandpa knew that people mattered.
He proved this every day in his life. He always had time to help someone, no matter who they were. He had a busy busy life, well into his later years. He made jewelry, he built cabinets, he did volunteer work, built dollhouses, he just had a lot to do. He never made much money in the work that he did for others, that wasn’t the point. He let some pay him for his work, but it wasn’t always a requirement.
And he accepted people, no matter what. He had a modge-podge of grandchildren and great-grandchildren, some inherited as my cousins married spouses who came with ready-made families. He loved them all as if they had been his blood kin, anticipated and born in the usual ways. He never differentiated by saying that they were “step” this or that, or “half”. They were simply his grandchildren. He never offered an explanation as to how they became to be his family; he didn’t feel that it was necessary. That they were a part of the family was enough, and they held equal ground with those of us who had been there since the beginning.
He worried about us all, and when it seemed the world was against someone, he was there to be FOR them. He once told me about my parents’ early days, when they were mere teenagers and found that I was on my way. My mother’s parents were enraged, my father’s mother was indignant.
“I took their side,” he said, “Because they had no one else to stand up for them.”
He did what he could to make their marriage a happy event, and not a shotgun affair. He welcomed my mother into their family with love.
I think of him when I see old photos. I always wonder about the person behind the photo; what did they love, what did they fear? How did they live their lives? There is a bit of my grandpa in me as I horde old photos, even if I will never even know who they are. I have to avoid the photo bins in antique stores. I have the urge to buy every one, just to give them a home. I am completely unnerved that anyone would throw a beautiful photo away just because they do not know the story or person behind the image. I simply cannot discard a photo because it has no explanation. It is “people”, and people matter.
I still wear my bracelet, after all of these years. Sometimes, I wear it because it is a stunning adornment to whatever I am wearing. But most of the time, I wear the bracelet because it reminds me of a loving grandfather that always had welcomed any relationship with another human being. A man who valued people more than things, who refused to turn his back on anyone. It helps me to remember always that people and relationships are more important than anything.
It also gives me comfort to know that no matter what, my grandpa would love me. He’s been gone for 17 years now…and not a day goes by that I don’t think of him. I miss everything about him. We were not just family, he was my friend and I valued his opinion very much. I looked up to him, admired him. But for all of my admiration of this great man, he would love me even if I disappointed him. He would love me even if I wasn’t perfect. He would love me if I was flawed beyond comprehension. That is a rare attitude in today’s world…it is too easy to cast someone aside when they no longer serve a purpose in your life. Grandpa didn’t cast anyone aside, he didn’t write them off. He knew that people mattered.
And I have the bracelet to prove it!